- Krista shares her background and gives an overview of First Flight Venture Center (01:52)
- The group discusses the amazing environment and community of the First Flight Venture Center entrepreneurial ecosystem (10:30)
- Krista shares her perspective of maximizing the resources of her team to benefit the First Flight Ecosystem, including a very clear focus on the mission and “why” of the organization, and the use of organizational prioritization tools (15:40)
- Krista shares the importance of a strategic planning process, and how First Flight Venture Center team leverages their strategic plan each day, including unlocking the ability for First Flight to say “no” gracefully when it’s appropriate to do so (20:00)
- The group discusses having a highly engaged and active Board of Directors, and how organizations can collaborate with other leaders in the same ecosystem to grow the entire ecosystem (24:00)
- Krista shares how First Flight Venture center is positioned to help YOU if you are an entrepreneur, and is positioned to support others in their own entrepreneurial journeys through mentorship in the Navigators Program (30:50)
- The group discusses the challenges that Krista faces as a leader, and how she’s preparing herself and her team to meet those challenges head on. (35:45)
- Krista & the group share guidance and advice for anybody who’s looking to “take the plunge” into entrepreneurship. (39:45)
- Do you want to learn more about First Flight Venture Center? If you’d like to learn more about the programs that First Flight Venture Center offers for founder teams, or for community leaders, please see their programs.
- TEAMES Global is live! We will be launching new courses throughout the summer to support leaders and organizations as they empower their teams, connect with customers and reach their goals!!! Follow TEAMES Global on Facebook and LinkedIn, and sign up for a course today!
- Learn more about how TEAMES & CO builds effective and empowered teams that deliver results at https://teamesandco.com/teams/organizational-design
- Follow TEAMES & CO on Facebook LinkedIn, Twitter (@teamesandco) and Instagram (@teamesandco)
- Want to watch the podcasts on video visit TEAMES & CO on YouTube.
Related Episodes: If you enjoyed this podcast, be sure to check out a conversation between Tracy and Mike on the process and benefits of Strategic Planning, a powerful tool that Krista discussed in this episode.
Listen to Episode 41
Episode 41 Transcript
Tracy Eames (00:25):
Hey everybody. Welcome to this week's episode of Building Teams with TEAMES & CO. This week, we are really excited to welcome a special guest Krista Covey, the president of First Flight Venture Center. Krista, thanks for joining Mike and I on this week's episode.
Krista Covey (00:37):
Absolutely. It's wonderful to be here. Thank you for having me.
Mike Vaggalis (00:41):
It's great to see you Krista.
Krista Covey (00:43):
Likewise. Great to see you both.
Mike Vaggalis (00:45):
Krista, maybe we can just kick off by giving our listeners a little bit of an introduction to who you are, who First Flight is and sort of your journey to becoming the president of First Flight.
Krista Covey (00:57):
Sure. I will give you an overview of First Flight and tell you how I got here. First Flight is, at our core, a business incubator, but I affectionately refer to us as an innovation hub because we do so much more than just incubation, but we focus on what we call high science, high impact startup companies, and science is pretty broad. So, when I say we serve science companies, it could be under the life science umbrella with biotech or ag tech. We also serve clean tech, hardware, software. It could be someone that's also working on solving a big problem that humanity faces.
So, changing the face of vaccines, going forward, solving, solving diseases, curing cancer, solving big problems that humanity faces. We have different ways of serving our entrepreneurs from the very earliest stages where they come to us and say, Krista, I've got a napkin sketch an idea. I've been a researcher or I've been in the labs for many years at my university, and I really think there's commercial potential. So, we have different programs to help them get to their next level of success.
That's a big part of what we do. We also provide a lot of education on how to start launch, grow a business. We have some wonderful mentors to also help us walk our entrepreneurs through that journey to success. And we also make it a priority in conjunction with the business acumen, the education piece to provide a platform for community. So, the entrepreneurial journey is a long road, and sometimes it's very lonely, and so having a community of support, people who've been there and done it before, or that are going through it themselves, it's really nice to be around that environment.
Then we also pride ourselves in helping entrepreneurs gain access to funding opportunities. So, funding could be from non-dilutive funding source through federal agencies, and we help them get some grants, especially through SBIR and STTR. These are from the federal agencies. There's over 20 of them, like National Science Foundation, NIH, DOD, DOE, and other entities like that. They have pools of money through the SBIR and STTR buckets. So, we help our entrepreneurs write and win those grants with our partner, Eva Garland Consulting and her team.
Then we also help entrepreneurs get investment dollars through angels or venture capitalist. We help them actually put together their pitch, so which includes the business model, financial model, path to market, and teach them how to present well so that they can be as competitive as possible. Then the other piece is, and it's nice to have free grant money and it's nice to have investment dollars, but we also want to help companies get their first customer as well.
Those are some of the things that we do at First Flight to ensure that our companies are as successful as possible. Then we also have a advanced prototyping facility called Hangar6, which is full of wonderful equipment, laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC mills, wood shop, welding shop, you name it, and we have an industrial designer to help entrepreneurs again, get from a napkin sketch to a functional prototype. That's a little bit about First Flight and some of our programs.
Mike Vaggalis (04:42):
So, you're not very busy at all, Krista.
Krista Covey (04:46):
Mike Vaggalis (04:48):
Krista Covey (04:51):
When somebody asks me if I'm ever bored or whatever, I don't even remember what it's like to be bored, and not that I would it that way.
Mike Vaggalis (05:01):
Totally. I've heard it said, you'd rather be busy than bored, but a little bit of boredom now and then is not a bad thing.
Krista Covey (05:07):
That's right. Yeah, I guess so. What is this word again?
Mike Vaggalis (05:11):
Tracy Eames (05:12):
Krista, you're relatively, I mean, new is maybe not the right term, but you've just joined First Flight in the last couple of years, so maybe you could share a little bit kind of around your journey to getting to First Flight and maybe a few stops along the way, just so our listeners kind of have that full breadth of your background. You've a really interesting background and a lot of experience in the entrepreneurial space, so I think that'd be a good lead into our discussion.
Krista Covey (05:34):
Oh, sure. I'm originally from the Chicago Area, but I grew up in Florida. My undergrad is actually in business and marketing, and then I went right into finance. I went into finance and eventually started my own farm, which was sold thankfully before the economic downturn, but also spent some time in corporate and commercial lending. I like to refer to myself as a recovering banker, and that was a really great experience. I'm an entrepreneur at heart, but I was able to serve other entrepreneurs, and it was really interesting because I was in banking and serving entrepreneurs in the good times and the really bad times. In 2008, 2009, a lot of especially long-time family owned companies were closing down, laying people.
It was really tough. So, I worked very closely with a local economic development organization and used them as a tool in my tool belt to help the entrepreneurs that I was serving, just manage their operations and stay true to the organization and try to preserve as many employees as possible. So, did that and I'd really enjoyed economic development, really enjoyed working with entrepreneurs, and so I found my calling in place when I joined an economic development organization in the Tampa Bay Area in Florida, and was very fortunate to, not only work with companies that were relocating or expanding to the area, but able to start up the entrepreneurial support organizations there.
So, I had a network of people that wanted to serve or were serving entrepreneurs in some way, but they weren't necessarily talking to each other. In many cases, they were actually fighting with each other. We all got together, we got in the same boardroom and said, hey, we all have this goal in mind to serve entrepreneurs. We know that it's important for our community, for the economy, how can we best work together? And so we started doing that and that led to, well, what do entrepreneurs need? Well, they need the place, they need community, they need funding and a whole host of other things.
So, I wound up starting a fund, a revolving loan fund in Florida for startups, even after I swore I'd never go into lending again, and started one, and then one incubator in Pasco County, Florida, and then a second location, and never looked back. I mean, it was just a wonderful experience working with entrepreneurs and an incubation. Then I was recruited to San Antonio, Texas, and worked for a foundation called the Texas Research Technology Foundation. They were focused on serving life science startups as a way to support economic development initiatives in San Antonio.
There was a big real estate component to that, but also was fortunate to help launch a incubator, global accelerator. There was also a fund. And what's really interesting is that they had a research park that was modeled after the Research Triangle Park. So, I always found that sort of ironic, and here I am today at First Flight, in the Research Triangle Park, and I've loved it ever since.
Tracy Eames (08:57):
That's awesome. Actually, when I moved to the area, to the Raleigh-Durham Area, I remember going to First Flight, and I had been recommended there by a couple of folks who I had met networking. The first lunch I attended there, kind of goes to your original description of First Flight, because I remember having three or four of those quick networking conversations like, oh, what do you do? Do you work out of here at First Flight? And the range of topics was so amazingly broad, it was like reverse water osmosis and solutions to HIV, and a million other topics.
But I just remember sitting there, and one of my friends walked up and I said, "I don't think I've ever been in a place where you can have so many super interesting conversations within a 15 minutes span." We were all just kind of on the pizza line, and this was a couple of years ago, but we were all just getting our lunch and getting ready to sit down for the speaker, and it was just one of those amazing experience was where the pre very informal chit-chat was so interesting that I was like ... Then we went into the speaker and the speaker was even more interesting, but it was just one of those really interesting dynamics because you don't always get that.
You don't always have this wide breadth of different activities that are so interesting happening all in one place, and so maybe you could just ... As we kind of think about teams, First Flight builds this amazing community, which is a team in of itself, right? These entrepreneurs may be are solopreneurs, or maybe they have a small team, but maybe you could just tell us a little bit about what that community feels like and being part of that community feels like because it's such a unique thing, I think, for First Flight, and such an amazing part of the community in the Raleigh-Durham, kind of Research Triangle Area.
Krista Covey (10:41):
Absolutely. So, you're spot on. I feel honored and privileged every day to walk these halls with all these brilliant, smart people, working on really unique science and technology solutions. The number of PhDs that are here, it's phenomenal. It's wonderful, but the conversations, yeah, you could be talking to an astrophysicist, somebody else that's working on clean water membrane, somebody else that's flying this new drone that is being worked on under a DOD contract.
I mean, just phenomenal opportunities to meet some brilliant people here at First Flight. It is truly an honor and a privilege, and it is a wonderful community. I do think that that is why people are here and why they come back. It's really fun. I've been here over a year now, but I've met so many people that are now on their fourth, fifth, sixth venture. And it's like, oh, well, I was here 12 years ago. I was here 10 years ago working on this company, and now I'm working on my fifth venture.
There's so much heart around First Flight and the folks that have been here, and so that's wonderful. We just want to make sure that we're doing our part to continue to provide that place for community to happen, and that's been challenging, of course, during a pandemic, but we've been able to offer programs like our founder round table, which is a monthly event for the CEO or the founder, or the major decision maker in that startup company, those resident startup companies here at First Flight to get together and talk through opportunities and challenges with each other.
It's that safe place, everyone signs NDAs, Vegas rules, what happens in the roundtable, stays in the roundtable, but you can really have those deep, meaningful conversations as you're traversing the entrepreneurial journey with others who get it, who care, who want to be there to support you. I think that's been really helpful especially in light of the pandemic. Then we also have different events for networking. We've got a Thirsty Thursday event every Thursday. People start showing up around 5:00-ish and people come out of the labs.
It's wonderful to be able to see people in person, have nice relaxed conversations, but boy, the wisdom, experience that you get from having these conversations is phenomenal. These folks are wonderful. So, we're just trying to encourage more of that.
Mike Vaggalis (13:17):
I can personally attest to the community aspect of First Flight. That was, I founded a company in 2019, and one of the first things that I was fortunate to do was attend a First Flight conference on SBIR, STTR grants, and I was struck by a lot of the things we've been talking about, the breadth of wisdom in those halls is incredible. Talking to people that are doing such vastly different things than what I'm building with my company, but we're facing similar challenges in terms of funding and getting the right resources that we need to be successful and understanding our unique business model canvases.
How do we diagnose and understand our categories and appeal to our customers? And all of the things that every founder, regardless of category, is trying to do, and having First Flight there as a resource and a connector is tremendous. To that point, Krista, I know that you lead a small, but extremely mighty team of really dedicated people who are working to create that infrastructure that we've all experienced in different ways, in different capacities. Like any founder working with limited resources to try to maximize value for the customer, how do you think about maximizing the resources at the First Flight team to deliver for your customers, and really for this whole ecosystem?
Krista Covey (14:43):
Yeah, so we have a small but mighty team, and we try to ... I'd say they punch well above their weight as far as their capacity, but I think it boils down to everyone is bought into the mission. Everyone here has a very clear focus on who we are serving and why we do what we do, and so the team is very much invested in the success of the entrepreneurs that we're serving and what it takes to help them get to their next level of success. I'd say, first and foremost, it's all about having a very clear mission on who are we serving and why does it matter? Absolutely, I agree. I've got an awesome team here, and they do a lot of work, and they wear a lot of hats, and yes.
Mike Vaggalis (15:35):
Tracy Eames (15:36):
You mentioned, as we started off, that there's so many things that First Flight does. You bucketed them into kind of the categories of having that space and that community piece of it for entrepreneurs, having this exceptional programming in terms of supporting entrepreneurs at different stages of their company, and then also giving them ways to either access funding or build revenue, so, kind of, what does that piece look like? How do you and your team prioritize those, juggle the different competing priorities. Obviously we're all coming out of a very change oriented year.
You talk about having a small team, and I think there's a lot of leaders who are listening to this podcast saying, hey, I have a smaller team and we have a lot of big goals too, and we've noticed we had to adjust those. So, how do you and your team stay on top of the changing dynamics and keep prioritizing things and working together through that change to serve your customers?
Krista Covey (16:32):
Absolutely. Again, it's keeping the mission focused when ... We actually have a staff meeting every Monday, and we go down our top three priorities for the week with each other. So, everyone is abreast of what's happening, what the priorities are and how we can support each other. So, we have a lot of things on the list, but we absolutely take time to prioritize the top three. We also have big goals for the year that we break down into three month goals as well. Gino Wickman, it's the rocks, it's the quarterly rocks.
So, we look at those on a regular basis. Every day is different. We do have a nimble flexible team. The other thing that we keep in mind is we are serving entrepreneurs and we ourselves have to be entrepreneurial, which means, how can we continue to deliver value to those that we're serving? And that might look differently tomorrow than it does today. So, we just have to be flexible and go with the flow some days.
Mike Vaggalis (17:41):
Yeah. No, Krista, I think that's awesome, and I want to pull a couple things out that I heard there just to sort of summarize some takeaways that I have. One is your commitment to the mission and making sure that everybody on the team has a very clear understanding of what the organizational north star is, who the customer is and who you're serving. Two is just from a structural perspective, and something that I think that my team can take away and learn from and maybe implement in some of our listeners as well, is a commitment to prioritization and having thoughtful conversation about, hey, what are our priorities? What are the rocks?
And then setting in place a structure that works for your team meeting on Mondays and talking through, what are the top couple of priorities every person has? Then sort of a spirit of how, and I love what you said, the entrepreneurial spirit and going with the flow and being able to bend and flex as sort of just a way of operating. I feel like there are some really relevant lessons for our listeners and even for myself, as I look at my business and TEAMES & CO, and how to work really effectively from what you shared.
Krista Covey (18:53):
Yeah. I think it's keeping everyone, first and foremost, pointed to the mission. We've gone through this exercise with TEAMES & CO to go through our strategic planning process. Why that's so important is because we're all aligned, myself with my board and staff, on what our big mission is and what our bigger vision is. The vision, and I have it written on my whiteboard ahead of me, and we will have it posted throughout the offices is, the vision is to be a global center of excellence, empowering science innovators to impact positive change.
So, if we can always look towards that big vision and make decisions on our day to day activities using the mission and the values, which our values are entrepreneurship, integrity, inclusion, and collaboration, we can make daily decisions. Is this the right thing to do? Am I being inclusive? Am I being entrepreneurial? So, that's how we can all live out each day and be flexible because we may have some opportunity come up the next day, and if it doesn't fit, we can say no, and we could say no gracefully.
Tracy Eames (20:14):
Well, yeah, we love that Krista. I think we speak about this a lot when we talk about strategic planning is, is having that plan. You may not follow it to the T every single day. There might be shifts, there might be puts, might be takes, but I think you just described it so well, which is the ethos of strategic planning, which is, hey, we have a vision, we have a mission, and we have these values. They're the report card, so to speak. They're a checklist to say, hey, is this opportunity worthwhile for us? Are we staying true to our mission? Are we serving our customers in the way that, or our members in your case, in the way that we want to? It's a way to kind of, as a leader, get ahead of the game, right?
Because you don't have to make every decision in January for the entire year, but it's just saying, hey, there's going to be things that come up, and as they come up, we've got a little bit of a framework that we can check it against. And we all feel comfortable saying, yeah, okay. Yeah, we all feel good with this decision because it doesn't meet these four or five criteria. That's just great to hear. I think for leaders listening, a good kind of point to resonate with, to say, hey, do we have, whatever system it is, you mentioned the system that you use around, rocks and three months goals, but do we have that process to say, we have the plan, and then we have a way to check in on that process throughout the year?
Our process might not be the same as everybody else's, but do we have a process where we get feedback from our team, where we share feedback with our team, where we're measuring ourselves against different KPIs and different goals? That just helps everybody kind of stay in the right direction, right?
Krista Covey (21:47):
Mike Vaggalis (21:48):
Krista, I wanted to talk a little bit about the board at First Flight. Working with you all on the strategic plan, one of the things that struck me was how engaged your board is and what a resource that can be, having the depth of wisdom and experience from such a large and engaged board, but also the challenge that it presents by having a lot of really successful, highly intelligent people who care so much and who sometimes, and oftentimes, will have divergent opinions. How do you see your role as the leader in maximizing the utility of a resource like that while also making sure to eliminate the spin and churn and keeping the organization moving forward?
Krista Covey (22:31):
Yeah. I'm very fortunate we have a great board at First Flight. We have our chair in particular, Mary Musacchia is very engaged. She's been very engaged for many years, and so we've got the privilege of having so much institutional knowledge as an organization going back, I believe almost, and I don't want to date her, of many, many years, and so, since she was involved. Oh, I think probably 10 years, she's been involved with First Flight, which is wonderful. So, it's great having that wisdom and guidance and expertise and friendship.
She's a friend to First Flight, she's a friend to me and she really has a goal ... Her priorities are in line. That is something unique and very special, I think, that I definitely enjoy. Then as far as the ... I have nine folks on my board who are movers and shakers and change makers in RTP, and I'm very grateful for their expertise and their wisdom, and they have tons of heart around First Flight, its mission, who we're serving. I think that is probably the best thing that I enjoy, is the fact that, and that's actually the reason why I came to First Flight, that's why I'm here, is because I saw the heart of the board.
Truly, they care about the Triangle, they care about our entrepreneurial successes, and they do their part. They chip in whenever they can, whether it's advice or feedback, or going through the strategic planning and joining the committee, or financially. It's really a phenomenal to have that opportunity, and I do have a great board. I've served on many other boards and some leaders are not so lucky.
Mike Vaggalis (24:36):
Tracy Eames (24:36):
I think it's also a testament to, and I think you mentioned it earlier when you were talking about your experience in Florida, and it sounds like something that you, not only take really seriously, but kind of walk the walk. Sort of speaking about your board, but just generally with first flight, there seems to be a lot of collaboration with other organizations within the Triangle Area, right? You talk a lot about together, we're advancing the Triangle. Your team is your internal team and your community within First Flight, but also this broader ecosystem of other entrepreneurial organizations.
I know you're often speaking around the Triangle and involved in a lot of these kind of ESO discussions, but maybe you can chat a little bit about that and how you as a leader help build that kind of relationships, and how you work with other leaders to say, hey, we are all in this together, right? We all want to support a common mission. That seems to be very vibrant in the RTP Area, and you definitely seem to be very involved across the Triangle and across the ecosystem.
Krista Covey (25:37):
Well, thank you. I hope to be, and I hope to do my part always. Entrepreneurship is not a solo sport. In so many ways, it's a team sport, where you're starting a company, that's again, being entrepreneurial. You build a team, you have advisors, you have folks that are there to support you and do the rah, rah along the way. As we're serving entrepreneurs as ESOs, Entrepreneur Support Organizations, serving our entrepreneurs and our startups, we're so much better together. It's unfortunate, I've seen folks that compete for entrepreneurs, and frankly, that's just not the right thing to do.
But if we can all align, everyone will have their goals and they report to boards and other folks on daily responsibilities and their particular deliverables, but if we can all align under the goal that entrepreneurship is good, it's important. It is creating jobs, creating wealth in the community, building skills, providing layers of economic successes. And we can all get behind that, which most of us can, then what can we do together to support that effort?
It's absolutely the rising tide theory, right? The rising tide floats all the boats, but when you've got two boats that are crashing into each other and fight, that doesn't help anybody. But if we can work together, and that's exactly what we're doing now. Last year, I was really privileged to meet some wonderful folks from CED and Innovate Raleigh and Raleigh Founded, and we said, you know what? Let's do that here in the Triangle. Let's work together and support our community, and figure out what the regional challenges and opportunities are and discuss them.
Let's just put it out on the table. A lot of us are developing new ways to serve entrepreneurs, whether that's programming or pulling down funding opportunities. It helps us not waste efforts and not waste resources, because if somebody else, if I've got a friend that has some resource or some program, I don't have to duplicate, I don't have to use my scarce resources to do something that's already being done. So, we get together once a month, we have an ESO luncheon. So, it's actually now a formed functioning group of change-makers here in RTP, and we talk about, what are the opportunities? What are the challenges? What can we do together?
Hey, what's going on as far as events? Who are the companies we should be celebrating. And we do that together, and it's frankly, a lot of fun, and I have made some wonderful friendships here in my time. I think we have a lot of opportunity ahead of us if we work together.
Mike Vaggalis (28:30):
Whew, Krista, the passion in that, I think we just need to like cut that, take, and have that as something that we advertise for First Flight, because it's awesome. That was awesome.
Krista Covey (28:46):
I am absolutely passionate about it. Collaboration is absolutely at the core of who I am and what we do. Yeah.
Mike Vaggalis (28:52):
I think that passion comes through, and in all the conversations that we've had, I think that comes through for the First Flight community. We would love to know for our listeners who are getting excited and pumped up by this conversation and are looking to help and contribute to First Flight and to supporting this ecosystem, how can they do so?
Krista Covey (29:15):
Great. Great question. There's a number of ways that folks here can plug in. Obviously, if folks are looking to start a business or they've got some idea for a business, we'd love to help, and if we're not the right folks to help them, maybe you're developing an app or a bakery, I can point to some of my friends at the ESO network and say, hey, if First Flight is not the right resource, go talk to my over here who has this commercial kitchen or what-have-you. That's first and foremost.
The second thing is, there's so much wisdom and expertise, and folks that have grown their own company or growing their own company, and if they like to give back, we've got a wonderful mentoring program called Navigators. That is just some time to meet. We could do virtually. We have a wonderful facility in RTP with incubator. We'll provide a space for folks to meet with entrepreneurs. So, we've got great companies looking for particular subject matter experts, so that's absolutely a way to plug in and give back, and feel good that you're doing something to contribute to the next generation of entrepreneurial successes.
We do lunch and learns all the time. We have lots of programming, so we're always looking for folks that want to help us, either, maybe they want to sponsor a cohort, or maybe they want to give a talk and share their ... Maybe they're patent attorneys or perhaps they've got some, some specific wisdom that they want to share during lunch, we'd love for them to help us out in that way. That's a great way to get involved in the community here at, First Flight.
Mike Vaggalis (31:03):
Listeners to this podcast, go check out First Flight, and definitely look for ways to get involved. It's a tremendous organization, and I would just strongly encourage anybody out there listening to go do that, and we'll be sure to post the links to make it really easy to do so in the show notes for this podcast.
Krista Covey (31:22):
Thank you very much.
Tracy Eames (31:23):
I think, Krista, also just thinking about the uniqueness, and you've mentioned a couple of them, so don't want to lose sight of them, but there's a lot of our listeners who are also larger organizations, and so they might say, hey, yeah, I would love to be a mentor, but are there other ways that we can get involved, and is that more of like a Hangar6 with the prototyping, or are there other programs, when you talk about programs at every life stage, are there ways that you guys tend to support later stage companies who say, hey, we've got that initial business plan, maybe we have our first customer, but we're now looking to really grow, and we're in that later stage of our entrepreneurial journey?
What does that look like in terms of First Flight programming, or is that one of those spaces that you say, hey, maybe we recommend folks to other places, but what does that conversation tend to look like with growing or larger organizations?
Krista Covey (32:15):
Yeah, absolutely. There are a number of ways for a later stage companies to get involved with us and hopefully to provide resources as well, including, you're exactly right, Hangar6 is a fantastic resource. We've got large corporate enterprise level organizations that need a place for engineers or some of their folks to prototype, to fail. We've got wonderful equipment and we've got wonderful folks at Hangar6 to help folks through the iterative design process. It's like, I want to create this widget, well, might take five or six iterations to actually get to a working widget.
So, we've got great resources there and a number of our corporate partners and friends send their engineers to Hangar6 for that purpose, for that safe place to fail. We also have an opportunity with organizations that are focused on health security threats. So, solving big problems like sepsis or vaccines for pandemics with our BARDA drive program. So, we're one of 13 BARDA accelerators, and BARDA is looking to access technology and science to help combat health security threats. Usually, those are later stage companies, and so with later TRL levels.
So, that's absolutely focused on later stage companies. I would say our roundtables, too, provide that CEO level peer to peer mentoring, and that's another opportunity for some of the later stage companies to participate with some of the offerings we have here at First Flight.
Tracy Eames (34:04):
I guess, Krista, I think there's so many exciting things. As Mike said before, obviously your passion for the entrepreneurial ecosystem is so evident, but what are some of the challenges that you're seeing? I think, we often as leaders and in podcasts, we get stuck in this fun place of talking about all the successes and all of the really exciting things, but the reality is, is obviously you're a leader of an organization. We're all leading organizations right now that are going through massive change.
As you kind of look to the next six months, how are you, as a leader, preparing yourself and preparing your team to say, hey, you know what? There may be some challenges ahead and here's how we're going to kind of face them. Not in the nitty-gritty. We understand that you can't share all of your ideas with us, but what are some of the ways as a leader you're thinking about, kind of just building that resiliency as an organization and preparing for some of those challenges that we might all be facing in the future?
Krista Covey (35:01):
Yeah. Definitely always thinking ahead, worst case, best case scenario, and absolutely managing the budget is important. As a leader of a nonprofit, that's absolutely top of mind for me is, how do we diversify our revenue? We sustain our operations mainly through the rent, which is low cost offices and labs, which are important to our startup community, but also to the sustainability of our operation. But we rely heavily also on donors, sponsors. We do have some grants, not as a sustainability, but as an icing on the cake, and so funding is absolutely paramount. As a nonprofit leader, we want to be thinking as a for-profit in that regards.
Of course, there's a lot of noise in the ecosystem, the greater ecosystem. What I mean from that is there's ... Entrepreneurship is somewhat trendy, which I think is a good thing. I think there's been a lot of startup champions behind the scenes working to promote entrepreneurship and why that's so important for communities. But there are some folks out there that don't have the right heart and don't have the right goal in mind.
It's more of a self-serving, hey, I'm going to start this program to help entrepreneurs or coach entrepreneurs. There's just a lot of noise. How do you show your relevance, your expertise, your credentials among the noise sometimes? So, we do see that as a challenge. Again, I want to be careful with that because I think the promotion of entrepreneurship and different entrepreneurial resources like incubators, accelerators, funds, that's all great. That's all wonderful, but you have to be selective on who you choose.
That's why I also, again, think it's important to have an ESO community, so there's accountability. The bad actors come into a network and then quickly run out because they know that they've been found out. That's something else that is important as well. And then, for First Flights specifically, we're looking at, how can we continue to serve even more entrepreneurs in the future. What does that mean for us? Does that mean increasing our footprint to offer ... A stable offering is our labs and our offices for folks.
We're at capacity right now. So, the only time that we have an office or a lab available is when, and it's a good thing, when we have somebody graduate. That's absolutely the goal, but boy, what could we do if we had additional space? Those are some of the things that I'm thinking about, our board is thinking about as well. It could be a challenge, but I think it's definitely an opportunity.
Mike Vaggalis (38:13):
Krista, what advice would you give to somebody who's considering taking the plunge into entrepreneurship to be a founder? I think we've hit on a lot of things, right? The value of community and leveraging resources like First Flight and ESO networks, some of the, maybe dangers of more self-serving organizations that might not have the same qualifications, but it is a fascinating, wonderful, scary, and exhilarating plunge, taking the step, from maybe a more stable corporate background, maybe coming straight out of school or a university background.
There's so many paths that can lead to entrepreneurship, but I think there's, I'm sure some universal wisdom that you can share to help anybody that's considering making that plunge.
Krista Covey (39:01):
Yeah, absolutely. I'd say, if you're really passionate about solving a particular problem, that's a big key. If you have a market, that's also key. Sometimes we have wonderful problems to solve and things that we're passionate about, but sometimes it's a hobby and not necessarily a business. So, that can be pretty tough to figure out early on, but it's better to figure it out as soon as possible before spending a lot of time, effort and energy on an idea that is really a hobby.
The other thing is having the aspirations for solving problems and creating a business. It can be helpful to go through a pre-incubation, a pre-acceleration program. We have one called Propeller, and the idea is that you have that validation early on again, before spending the time effort and energy and resources and blood, sweat, and tears, and all that entails to start a company in some cases, and you can get that validation through coaching and programming and tools. Again, it's understanding what it takes to grow a business and to ... Well, to really start it and then to grow the business.
Another, something that I would share is talk to entrepreneurs, be in an entrepreneurial community for a while. See if you like the energy, if you like the brainstorming, and if you like the risk taking, because it is risky. You're risking your time. You're risking your science or technology. Sometimes in order to grow a business, you have to talk about it. So that can be scary and risky. You'll be challenged a lot. Are you okay with conflict? Are you okay with people telling you, no? Are you okay with people telling you, oh, your idea's terrible and keep going? Because you've got validation somewhere else.
It's a tough journey and it's not for the faint of heart, but boy, it can be so rewarding on the other end. Truly, I believe that entrepreneurs are the life blood of this country, of this community, locally as well, where new business starts are so important, creating jobs are so important, solving big problems for humanity, so important, right? It takes entrepreneurs, it takes the risk takers, it takes those people that are okay to the needle forward and to push the ball, and push against all odds to make the good happen.
Again, it's, it's really doing a lot of, self-reflection, talking to others on the entrepreneurial journey, doing your research as far as what your market may be for your idea, for your product or service, and then go from there.
Mike Vaggalis (41:54):
Yeah. I would just underscore a lot of those points, and also just the tools that Krista mentioned for any of our listeners that are considering taking that plunge. There are tried and true ways to position yourself for success, so taking advantage of opportunities like Propeller and taking advantage of some of the tools and resources to ... If you're a founder, or considering starting a business to ascertain, is this a hobby or is there a real market? And making sure that you have validation to yes, take a risk, but take a calculated risk, and take one where you have done the due diligence to put yourself in the best position to succeed.
That's one of the really cool things that I truly believe First Flight offers in the community here locally and in the Triangle, but also more broadly. For any entrepreneur, I would say, make sure to find community because it can be a lonely ride without one.
Tracy Eames (42:52):
Krista, it's been great having you, and we can't thank you enough for joining us for the Building Teams Podcast. It's so nice to be able to hear about kind of different ways people are building teams and building communities. We've been having a lot of requests around diving deeper into specific types of companies and specific types of teams. I think First Flight just gives us a really great example of a nonprofit team that's doing a lot of great things and doing so in a way that's really supporting a broader team, that full RTP kind of entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Thank you for coming and joining us and sharing all of your insights on what it means to be a partner within that entrepreneurial community, but also what it means to be a leader within that community and appreciate you sharing that experience with us and our listeners.
Krista Covey (43:37):
Thank you so much. It's been fun. It's been a pleasure. So, hopefully someone can take something from this.
Tracy Eames (43:44):
Thank you for everybody who's tuning in. If you, again, to Mike's point, if you want to learn more about First Flight, we will share all of their contact information in our show notes. You can check this podcast out on YouTube as well. You can find us wherever you find your podcasts, and we look forward to seeing you next week, so thanks everybody.
Krista Covey (44:02):